Empire Strikes Back

This modest bar and grill dishes out good food with culinary glitter

Empire quesadillas proved the only serious crack. The tortilla envelope was delicate and crisp, but the innards had the culinary resonance of spackle. The chicken was bland, dry and a little old-tasting (giving these chicken bits a savage seasoning treatment could have jacked this dish up a couple of notches). With melted cheese (jalapeño jack, but where's the bite?), slivers of roasted red bell pepper and onions, these little pie slices of goo and submerged toppings were (literally) cold with marooned flavor.

This is in stark contrast to that other culinary pie-slice exploit: pizza. Empire pizza is a gorgeous disc of carnivore gore holding perfect slices of Canadian bacon, delicious Italian sausage (the kind that doesn't look like braised Ken-L Ration), pepperoni, mushroom and pinches of onion. The crust is crisp where it needs to be and moist and bouffant where dough nurturing is demanded. The pie is modestly washed in a tangy (not too sweet) sauce and blanketed with an ample carpet of cheese that doesn't knot in your teeth and make gum streamers back to the plate after you take a bite.

Conclusions slipped a bit, but sometimes dessert is an unnecessary add-on. (Cognacs and sauternes seem the best way to end a meal.) Pineapple bread pudding seemed more promise than anything else: tropical fruit embedded in this gooey concoction of Anglo mud. A scoop of superb housemade vanilla ice cream is nuzzled up against the cake, but caramel sauce is nothing but a zigzag of beads across the plate. This recipe could have used a drenching of sauce thinned with whiskey or some other brown spirit, because the bread part itself was a bit dry, with a listlessness the tropical dazzle of pineapple couldn't thwart.

Empire may not win kudos from national mags, but it's a good bet for locals.
Stephen Karlisch
Empire may not win kudos from national mags, but it's a good bet for locals.

Location Info


Empire Bar & Grill

302 S. Houston
Dallas, TX 75202

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum


214-742-6860. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday-Saturday; open for dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Saturday. Bar food served until 11 p.m. $$-$$$

Potstickers: $8
Tortilla soup: $5
Calamari: $7
Herb-crusted halibut: $24
Pork chop: $19
Empire chicken quesadillas: $7
Empire pizza: $9
Bread pudding: $6

Closed Location

But that's OK. There's probably lots of time to tinker with sauces here. The fundamentals are sound. The ambition isn't preoccupied with national glossies. Instead, it's centered on dishing out good food with just enough culinary glitter to get the foodies twisting a little in their seats. Instead of a noisy kingfish, Empire is a quiet domain.

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